Mid-term US Congressional elections have altered the legislative landscape. Republicans in control of the Senate could mean a shift in favour of business interests including airports and airlines.
The return of the Senate - the upper house - to Republican control puts a crucial panel, the commerce committee, back into the hands of John McCain, who is renowned for fending off a dramatic rewrite of airline passenger rights.
More importantly, the most likely chairman of the aviation subcommittee is Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican from Texas who is considered sympathetic to big carriers such as American and Continental Airlines, both based in the Lone Star state. Hutchison, who served on the National Transportation Safety Board before entering politics, replaces Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, a frequent critic of airline service cuts, especially those affecting rural states.
Some of the biggest Senate changes are on the appropriations committees, the powerful and often secretive panels that specify how much is to be spent and on which projects and programmes. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who takes over the full committee, is considered friendly to airport interests and to such causes as streamlining the environmental reviews of airport expansion, according to Joel Bacon of the American Association of Airport Executives.
Appropriators traditionally benefit projects in their home states, but also "advise" or "encourage" agencies such as the FAA to adopt certain policies. In Washington, agencies tend to heed the counsel of those who control their budget. The appropriations subcommittee on transportation will be led by Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, considered pro-business. Shelby, however, also has the seniority to take over the banking committee as well as to lead an intelligence committee.
The Senate shift also suggests a more sympathetic ear to advocates of change on labour laws who want to see binding arbitration or at least to limit the duration of the bargaining process. Current law sets no time limit for negotiations.
This new atmosphere will also ease the way for the public awareness campaign spearheaded by regional airlines and airframers to highlight the effects of pilot scope clause limits on service and show how much the restrictions limit regional jet services.
The lower chamber, the House of Representatives, remains Republican, but one change is that the aviation subcommittee's highest-ranking minority member, Chicago Democrat William Lipinski, will be replaced by Republican Peter DeFazio of Oregon, a proponent of airline passenger rights legislation and frequent critic of airline service.
This removes a voice for Chicago O'Hare expansion, which also has less support in the Senate. There, Illinois Republican Senator Peter Fitzgerald, who is opposed to enlarging O'Hare, is a member of the majority.
DAVID FIELD WASHINGTON
Source: Airline Business